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Education Patents Technology

Boston U. Patent Lawsuits Hit Apple, Amazon, Samsung, and Others 147

curtwoodward writes "First, we heard that Boston University — a private, four-year school overshadowed by neighbors like MIT and Harvard — was suing Apple for patent infringement. Well, sure, patent lawsuits in tech are an everyday thing, right? But it turns out this is not a one-off: BU has been quietly filing a barrage of patent lawsuits since last fall, all of them revolving around the same patents for LED and semiconductor technology. And the targets run the gamut, from Apple and Amazon to Samsung and several small companies that distribute or sell LEDs and other equipment. A couple of small guys have settled, but Amazon and Samsung are refusing. Still to come: Apple's response."
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Boston U. Patent Lawsuits Hit Apple, Amazon, Samsung, and Others

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  • Enough (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:47PM (#44183717)

    OK guys, can we please admit the US patent system is broked and needs repair now?

    This is getting out of control and I think it's because everyone has arrived at this same basic conclusion: FIX PATENTS NOW.

  • Re:Enough (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:53PM (#44183765)

    How? So, a university spends tons of money and years of research refining a process which is far to sophisticated for you to understand, and you think they don't deserve some kind of exclusive rights?

    These are NOT trivial and obvious patents, this is not a patent troll, and it does not demonstrate a broken patent system.

    In fact, I'd argue that if the defendants were allowed to use this tech without paying royalties, THAT would demonstrate a broken patent system.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:10PM (#44183901)

    On the surface this sounds like patents which relate to semiconductor physics and process technologies.

    This is _exactly_ the kind of thing the patent system was designed for! They're not goofy/obvious/stupid software patents - they are extremely complicated and non-trivial processes.

    This isn't a "rounded corners" case and doesn't look like a patent troll.

    Yes it is a troll.

    Look, Apple doesn't manufacture ANYTHING. Neither does AMAZON. The companies they hire to build their devices buy parts on the open market.
    Those parts manufacturers (which may include Samsung) are the proper targets for Lawsuits if Boston U actually has a case. Not someone simply buying a component on the market and using it. Especially when those components have been available on the market for 20 years.

    B.U. might just as well sue YOU for using a LED without a license.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:39PM (#44184141)

    The University failed to defend their patent while all sorts of third parties put the devices into production and sold them openly on the components market world wide. Apple produces nothing. They don't have a single Fab. They buy parts on the open market, and have them delivered to Foxconn.

    Open market commodities, uncontested by the claimed patent holder do not become violations simple by being incorporated into a device.

    BU manufacturers nothing except lawsuit. Google "patent assertion entities" and learn what trolling is all about.

  • by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:41PM (#44184167)

    why Apple?

    Looks like BU failed to secure a patent outside the US, where, in all likelihood, the LEDs are being manufactured. Well, I believe that BU's patent gives them the right to exclude the patented devices from being brought into the US. Since they aren't being seized by customs (which may be what should be happening), BU is going after the organization with deep pockets that's importing the devices in a finished product.

    Two things are outrageous here. BU appears to be suing for dollar amounts absurdly in excess of the marginal utility of its invention. And BU is suing long after the patent was issued, never having defended the patent before, which weakens their case considerably (because it is similar to entrapment.)

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:07PM (#44184383)

    This is _exactly_ the kind of thing the patent system was designed for!

    Except that this technology has been in use for how many years? And between 1995 and last fall, BU has filed how many suits?

    There is a legal principle called laches []. Which basically says: If you don't defend your rights in a timely manner, you lose them. Had BU stepped in and exercised its patent rights from the outset, manufacturers could have negotiated reasonable licensing fees. And BU would be the recipients of a tidy subsidy for their institution over the past decade. Springing stuff on Apple and others* a this point is a tactic akin to blackmail and shouldn't be allowed.

    *It could be argued that the LED suppliers Apple used should have the responsibility to ensure that their processes are clear of patent infringement. If you have a laptop, stereo system or automobile with blue LEDs, should we stop by your house to pick them up? At what point do we draw the line?

  • No, actually... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:26PM (#44184529)

    It would be better if we adequately taxed corporations to fund this research and then allowed it to be publicly released to all, such that any person who could turn the research into an application could have the opportunity without fear of patent trolls.

    But that's just crazy talk afterall. I mean slitting a city/county/state's own fiscal wrists to allow a company to locate themselves there is necessary in this tough economic climate, isn't it? :-P

  • Re:Enough (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:37PM (#44184613) Homepage Journal

    Oh, so in your communist magical fantasy world, people get together in large scientific groups to produce technology purely for altruistic reasons.

    Yes. That world is called academia. Just saying.

  • Re:Enough (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @10:47PM (#44185073) Homepage Journal

    They may well have a legitimate gripe with the company that actually made the LEDs. Let them go after them.

    The fact that going after a downstream user who may very well not employ anyone who even understands the patent even seems viable is evidence of broken patent law.

    It's approaching Kafka's "The Trial" (Happy Birthday Franz). Sued for a process you don't use and don't even understand. Since you don't understand it you cannot even begin to guess if the patent is valid or if your supplier might use or even understand the process, but you're somehow supposed to defend yourself in court and "I have no idea what any of this is and have certainly never used it" just won't do.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"